A number of devotees attended the recent (January 2003) series of meetings in Hawaii on the book changes. Jayadvaita Maharaja attended the first two meetings, and Nischintya Prabhu attended the third one (Jayadvaita Maharaja was out of town). I attended all three meetings and believe that much was accomplished. Many valuable points were gleaned from these sessions—both inspiring as well as grueling. These meetings are being transcribed, and are available on adi-vani.org for those who are interested.
We held the meetings in Srila Prabhupada’s room at New Navadvipa Dham, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada Memorial Tirtha (the Honolulu ISKCON temple), where Srila Prabhupada lived, worked and translated his books. His presence is very strong at our Hawaii temple. We all prayed for Srila Prabhupada’s divine presence at these meetings, and humbly requested that he inspire us to reach understandings based on his transcendental viewpoints, rather than our own limited ones. In my heart, I feel that Srila Prabhupada has urged me to speak out on this issue. I usually do not get involved in controversial matters unless the issue is of great importance. And the issue of Srila Prabhupada’s books, in my opinion, is of paramount importance. I have had many realizations and wish to share them here.
First, it seems that Jayadvaita Maharaja takes this matter too personally. This is not about his writing or editing talents. He should understand that we are not challenging his writing or editing abilities. He is a good writer and editor, and can write and edit any number of books that will be both useful and beneficial to the world. Nevertheless, he should not take the liberty of changing what Srila Prabhupada has already written, approved, signed off on, published and spoken from. This is inappropriate by any standard. Call it arsa-prayoga, bowdlerizing or common sense; we just don’t change the words or writings of our guru. It is a spiritual issue, not a mundane one. We cannot ‘improve’ our guru’s words, and if we think we can, it’s ‘mundane vision.’
This is not an issue for mere scholarly debate; this is a sacred issue, the very heart of our Guru Maharaja. His books are his heart, his gift to the world; they should not be criticized, decimated, undervalued or above all, changed to suit the tastes of scholars or revisionists. To even consider doing so betrays the consciousness of ‘I am on the same level as my guru; I can improve his work, and I can even do better.’ This is a dangerous position.
Srila Prabhupada worked closely with his editor Hayagriva on Bhagavad-gita As It Is from 1966 through 1968. Hayagriva worked with Srila Prabhupada in New York in 1966. He came from New York to San Francisco in late 1966 or early 1967 to continue working with Srila Prabhupada at the San Francisco temple. Hayagriva was already at the San Francisco temple when I first met Srila Prabhupada in early 1967.
A year later, in early 1968 my husband and I were living in Los Angeles with Srila Prabhupada. His Gita was soon to be published by Macmillan. I worked on the cover picture for the Gita, which originally was a detailed drawing of the virat-rupa (universal form) of the Lord, with many arms and Arjuna kneeling beside Him. This is what Srila Prabhupada wanted. In spring 1968, we flew to New York with Srila Prabhupada. We met with the publishers and editors at the Macmillan office to discuss the cover art and submit the cover picture. Cover art is a late step in the production of a book. This means that the unabridged Bhagavad-gita was already complete and ready to go to press in late 1967 or early 1968.
We were in negotiations with Macmillan about the size and content of the book. During the negotiations, Macmillan explained that they felt there was too much repetition in the book, and they wanted to cut down the purports. Macmillan was paying the cost of publishing, so they had the final say. Srila Prabhupada was not happy with this proposal, but he wanted to get his book in print, so he agreed to it. He hoped to get the complete book in print later. The fact that the abridged edition sold well demonstrated a viable market for the book. Thus in 1972, Macmillan printed Srila Prabhupada’s full, unabridged edition of Bhagavad-gita As It Is.
Therefore, it was not Hayagriva, but Macmillan who was responsible for cutting down the size of the book. They also changed the cover art to a solitary four-armed form of Visnu. Macmillan, not Hayagriva, edited the abridged edition from the original complete edition. This all took place by mid-1968.
So actually, Srila Prabhupada’s unabridged Bhagavad-gita As It Is—later published in 1972—was already complete by early 1968. If Macmillan had agreed to publish it then, the unabridged edition would have gone to press in early 1968—before Jayadvaita Maharaja became a devotee around mid-1968. My point is that all the editorial decisions for Bhagavad-gita As It Is must have been made before Jayadvaita Maharaja even joined ISKCON. Therefore, Jayadvaita Maharaja cannot possibly know the extent of Srila Prabhupada’s and Hayagriva’s collaboration on Bhagavad-gita As It Is. For example, how can we think that, as Jayadvaita Maharaja asserts, Hayagriva chose the phrase ‘the Blessed Lord said’ independently from Srila Prabhupada’s instructions?
In the early days of the movement, we were like a close family. We personally discussed everything with our spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada. Every detail of every book was personally directed and overseen by Srila Prabhupada. As some devotees know, I was Srila Prabhupada’s secretary and servant from late 1967 to early 1969. My husband and I lived and traveled with Srila Prabhupada extensively during that time. While with Srila Prabhupada in early 1968, I did the cover drawing for the first Macmillan Gita, the small blue-violet edition. We were living in a large apartment in LA, and Srila Prabhupada would come shuffling down the hall in his house slippers and into my art room, look over my shoulder at the work in progress, and offer many suggestions. He oversaw my drawings for Teachings of Lord Caitanya at that time also. He described in detail, for example, how the interior of Jagannath Puri temple looked, how the priest was sitting on the edge of the altar receiving the garlands to offer to the Lord, how the lighting inside the temple room looked, etc. Srila Prabhupada personally described and watched over the development of each drawing. He conceived of each work in all its details, and we simply carried them out according to his instructions.
Srila Prabhupada worked very closely with his editors and artists on his books. In late 1968 we were living in Los Angeles in the Hayworth Street apartment with Srila Prabhupada. I was transcribing Nectar of Devotion and Caitanya-caritamrta. Hayagriva came to visit from the East Coast, stayed with us for several weeks and spent many hours working with Srila Prabhupada in his room. Srila Prabhupada certainly discussed every single facet and aspect of the editorial work with Hayagriva. I have many old notebooks filled with notes from my daily letter writing and editing sessions with Srila Prabhupada. It is likely that Hayagriva also filled notebooks during his editing sessions as well, and later incorporated these notes in editing Srila Prabhupada’s books.
In those early days, there was no worldwide movement, no BBT, no sannyasis, no GBC, no money and no politics. There was simply lots and lots of spiritual love for Srila Prabhupada. He taught us that love is the basis, not ambition, achievement and accomplishment. It’s not what you do for Krsna, but how you do it—with what consciousness. There was just Srila Prabhupada and his family of devotees, and we worked on the books together. Srila Prabhupada certainly oversaw the specific details of the artwork, and he had plenty of time to oversee the writing and editing as well.
My point here is that we are assuming a lot if we think that Srila Prabhupada didn’t know what was going on with his books. He was directly involved with supervising every aspect of book production, both externally and internally. There is an esoteric spiritual side of this—he was working through us willing disciples, empowering us with his ‘Midas touch.’ His bhakti infused everything he touched, and we willing servants were simply vehicles for his mercy to shine through. We were not the doers; we were only Srila Prabhupada’s instruments. Our only qualification was our sincerity, and our simple desire to serve: not to become great ourselves, but to put forth the greatness of our guru. That was our driving desire.
Jayadvaita Maharaja says that he changed the Bhagavad-gita to be more in keeping with the ‘original manuscript.’ I question which manuscript, since nearly two years of editing by Srila Prabhupada and Hayagriva had already taken place before Jayadvaita even joined the movement. There certainly were many working drafts and manuscripts in various stages of editing, since Srila Prabhupada spent many hours, weeks and months going over every detail of every single verse of the Gita with Hayagriva. Jayadvaita Maharaja confirmed this in the second Hawaii istagosthi meeting: there is no one ‘original manuscript.’
A writer usually prepares several working drafts before the final draft is polished and sent to press. For example, I made several drafts of this letter, correcting spelling, grammar and style. The first drafts are in my trash bin. I am signing this, the final draft, for publication. If someone took an earlier draft out of my trash bin and published it, I would be greatly annoyed. Similarly, Srila Prabhupada’s signature is on the final draft of the complete Bhagavad-gita As It Is (completed in 1968 but not published until 1972), not on any so-called ‘original manuscripts’ Jayadvaita Maharaja may possess. To assume that Srila Prabhupada was not watching over and scrutinizing this whole process is absurd. His books were most important to him. He knew both internally and externally what was going into his books, and he signed and sealed the work when it was completed to his satisfaction and ready to go to press. And how is it that Krsna sent Hayagriva—a poetry professor—to Srila Prabhupada? Srila Prabhupada chose Hayagriva to edit the Bhagavad-gita, a poetic work, the ‘Song of God.’ Hayagriva just happened to be a college professor of English literature specializing in the early transcendental poets like Thoreau, Emerson and Yeats. Is this all just ‘chance?’